DeBord glad to be home, coaching with Allen

Last December, Mike DeBord knew what he wanted.

DeBord was serving as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, and upon learning that his longtime friend Tom Allen had been promoted to head coach at Indiana, DeBord turned to his wife and predicted the future.

“If he calls me,” DeBord said to his wife, Deb, “we’re going.”

The call eventually came on New Year’s Eve, the day after Tennessee topped Nebraska in the Music City Bowl. The DeBords were driving to Michigan to visit their grandchildren when Mike’s phone rang. He looked at the caller ID — Tom Allen — and quickly showed his wife.

“Well, answer it!” Deb said.

He did. DeBord and Allen spent the next several hours of the drive discussing the qualities Allen sought in a coordinator and the type of offense he wished to install during his tenure.

They also talked about DeBord, and the kind of role he could have in Bloomington if he took the job.

“Let’s both think about this again, and on Sunday, let’s talk again on my way home driving back to Tennessee,” DeBord told Allen over the phone.

And by Sunday, during the DeBords’ drive South, an agreement was reached. DeBord was coming home.

At Indiana, the veteran college coach is ready to begin the final chapter of his three-plus decade coaching career, aligning with Allen, another native son of the Hoosier state, with the goal of helping IU football achieve the kind of success it hasn’t seen in years.

DeBord, 61, says the Indiana job will be his last, bookending a career that has included stints at Michigan, Colorado State, Ball State and Eastern Illinois.

Coaching at IU, DeBord says, means a little more. He was born in Muncie, played high school ball at Wes-Del, then played collegiately at Manchester. He’s an Indiana Football Hall of Famer and now, essentially, the head coach of an Indiana offense aiming to achieve consistency in 2017.

“(He’s) a man that I trust, that I know has tremendous high character,” Allen said. “Tremendous person, and excellent football coach.”

DeBord and Allen have been good friends since the latter was defensive coordinator at Ben Davis in the late 1990s. DeBord’s relationship with the Allen family, however, dates back longer still.

In 1979, DeBord was hired as the new football coach at South Decatur High School in Greensburg. He wanted to run the veer offense and sought advice for its implementation.

Who best ran the veer offense, DeBord asked his coaching colleagues at the time. The name that kept surfacing? Tom Allen Sr.

So DeBord found a phone number and called the elder Allen, then the coach at New Castle. DeBord asked if he could come over and get some tips. Allen Sr. was eager to share his approach.

The two coaches spent a full day together in the garage of the Allen family home, using a set of trash cans as stand-ins for linemen — cans for the tackles, the guards and the center.

“He took me through and explained to me his offense,” DeBord said.

And surely, somewhere around the house that day, 9-year-old “Tommy” Allen, the future head coach at Indiana, was running around, too.

“When I was at Ben Davis,” Allen said, “he came to my office and said, ‘You don’t know me, but …,’ and he told me the story of coming to my house as a kid.”

DeBord recalls meeting the younger Allen shortly after Allen’s appointment to the Ben Davis staff in 1998. DeBord, then at Michigan, stopped into the school on a recruiting visit and got the rundown from legendary Giants coach Dick Dullaghan.

“I’ve got this new defensive coordinator, and he’s awesome,” DeBord recalls Dullaghan saying. “He’s great.”

“Who is the guy?” DeBord asked.

“Tom Allen,” Dullaghan replied.

DeBord asked if he was related to the New Castle coach by the same name. Dullaghan affirmed, and the two went to Allen’s classroom for an introduction.

That was the beginning of a strong bond formed through the game they lived. Throughout Allen’s coaching life, whenever he’s sought advice on career opportunities, he’s called DeBord.

The only job Allen didn’t call about? Indiana.

“I think that was a no-brainer,” DeBord said with a chuckle. “He can do that without me and my advice.”

But a call to DeBord eventually came. And he eagerly answered.

On Jan. 2, the day after he and Allen agreed to team up in Bloomington, DeBord walked into Tennessee’s football complex for the final time, gathered his belongings and said goodbye.

Then he got in his car and drove from Knoxville to Bloomington, ready to get started.

“I love this state,” DeBord said. “I grew up here, and it’s where I played high school football. It’s where I played college football, it’s where my coaching career started, and this is where my coaching career is going to end.

“Every job has meant a lot to me. I mean, every one — every one I had because I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to help and all those kinds of things. But this one has more meaning. It has a lot more.”